RL187 - The nicest Oubliette

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Getting pulled over and doing the job of the police or the DMV (Politics)
  • John recently got Delta silver medallion status (Tweetstorm)
  • Emotional, intellectual and physical intelligence (Humanities)
  • Weird jobs (Factoids)
  • Tempering your guitar (Music)
  • John wearing tight clothes, people want to see your legs (Style)
  • Military grooming (Style)
  • How to correctly wear your jeans, Hige-patterns (Style)
  • Cough button (Podcasting)
  • The Headphoney podcasting awards (The Phoney Awards)
  • John receiving the Seattle Weekly's Best of the Web Award 2010 for Tweet of the Year (Awards)
  • Canada is the toupée of North America (Geography)

The problem: No shit would be taken, referring to John getting pulled over by a cop and having a buddy in the back who was anti-authoritarian and who communicated that the car would not take any shit from the cops!

The show title refers to airline mileage programs, which are all terrible, but Delta seems to be the least terrible one, it is like being thrown into the nicest oubliette.

John was just recently pedantically instructed on how to pronounce ”Siracusa”. Merlin talks about how John Siracusa told him recently that video games are not movies, but they are a different experience altogether. John throws in that they are like a masturbation hole in a wall, because he wants to get angry letters.

If John wants to do a mindless task, he will go into his contacts and update everything, find duplicates and so on. In the past he was meticulously editing his MP3 metadata.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Getting pulled over and doing the job of the police or the DMV (RL187)

John recommends Merlin to stay inside today, because it is a little crazy out there and many people are making left-hand turns from the right lane. "Don’t make any unnecessary trips today!", as the State Troopers say. It is like letting the guy with the brooms decide how many elephants can be in the parade, because he will just try to make his job easier.

One time John was driving up to a road block where a State Trooper was standing there saying ”Road’s closed!” - ”Really?” - ”You can go if you want, it’s on you!” Everybody else probably turned around, but John had never seen a road that was so closed that he wouldn’t take a shot at it. Dale Carnegi might have said that! It was a hairy ride, but it wasn’t closed.

Merlin does not like to drive and tries to avoid it. He always lives in fear of the cop asking him where he was going because it implies the question why he is going where he is going. It is part of Merlin’s existential anxiety, because he doesn’t have one particular good reason for anything he does and he doesn’t like being ask about it. It is a potential moment for Merlin to bond with the cop over why any of us do anything. A lot of times they ask a question not to get an answer, but to see how you react to the question. They are trained to do that and they don’t actually care why you are driving, but they want to see if you are up to some monkey business.

John got pulled over by a cop one night and he had a former army veteran in the back of the car who had fought in the famous Panama war, the Noriega war, where they parked outside the embassy and played Heavy Metal music. It was a genuine war and army people shot at other army people and succeeded in their mission of shooting other people. He was a really big army guy and that was before we had a term for this kind of libertarian anti-authoritarian-takeover wildlife-refuge style anti-government person. John got pulled over for going 50 in a 30, or something and this guy's body language was immediately communicating that this car wasn't going to take any shit. No shit would be taken here! This cop barely has the authority to pull us over!

It was in the middle of the night, it was a little bit fraught, and as the cop was walking up he surely saw this 6’5” (195 cm) bald army guy staring straight ahead with his jaw clenched. As he asked ”Do you know why I pulled you over” - ”Yes, I was going 50 in a 30”, the guy behind John lost his mind, like ”What are you doing? Name, rank and serial number!” John said sorry, there was nobody on the road and he was just driving, it was not that there were school busses on the street. He had to give his license and registration and sit tight and John’s buddy gave John the ultimate dressing-down. ”What the fuck are you doing, man?” 5 minutes later the cop came back ”Alright, but slow it down out there!” See, the cop was not an asshole, there was no-one on the highway, you just have to be upfront about it. John gets off tickets all the time, which is largely white privilege.

Merlin knows that the cops do an incredibly hard, difficult and dangerous job, but he still thinks it is weird that anybody wants to be a cop and he is suspicious of anybody who wants to be a cop. There are people with a Napoleon complex who want to be cops so they can be bossy and there are a lot of good people, but it is such a weird job! If somebody says they will give John $50 to come to Boston for an hour, John would think it is not really a good deal and he wouldn’t want to do it, whereas if somebody else would give him $50.000 to do something in your own backyard, he will do it because he can weigh if it is a good use of his time. When you are a cop, there is so much stuff that comes down to time and paperwork and in that case why did he really pull John over? What a weird job to have to pull somebody over, check their information and not give a ticket. What part of his job was he doing and did he succeed at it?

John thinks the best cops understand that they are agents of the state and that we all agree on laws that need to be enforced. The state enforces them for a variety of reasons and they do that through the police. The worst cops think that they are personally charged with a personal authority to be out there busting bad guys, but that is just the wrong motivation. They think they have some superior ability to get in there and deal with the bad guys. Those guys should become trainers.

The best cops understand that we need police because the state makes laws that benefit us all and we have to enforce those laws because a lot of people are going to say that the laws don’t apply to them, John included. If you are on your 1am-8am shift enforcing the law, and you see a guy driving 50 in a 30 (80 km/h in a 50 km/h) with the car being literally on fire and him sitting on top of it wearing a toga and a cimeter, you are definitely going to pull him over because he appears to be a danger to everyone.

If you see a car full of guys who look like former army rangers and they are going too fast, but that is really the only thing going on right now, you wish a space alien would come down and give you something exciting to do, but because it is the only thing going on, you are pulling these guys over and you check their ID. Everybody was fine, this was just a normal situation. You can use good judgement to tell them to move along. Only bad cops are always the ones who don’t see themselves as bad. Then there is the donut-eating cop who sees a car speeding by and thinks it is too much trouble right now to chase that guy. He is making a decision on his own behalf, too: To get paid to do nothing.

Being a meter maid is just a job. They could be sitting behind a desk at the DMV, making life hard for people or they could be out checking parking meters. Merlin has a police station very near to where he lives and they interact with cops a lot. The cops from that department end up covering 1/4-1/5 of the city and have to fan out over a very large area of Western San Francisco and it is always weird to read something in the paper about something that happened fairly near his house. Merlin continues about his view of the police and mentions the TV-show Fargo.

In 90% of jobs, you are dealing with a select group of people during your day. If you work at an insurance agency, you are only dealing with people who are seeking insurance and people who are in the insurance trade. Even if you are talking on the phone to customer service people, you are dealing with people who are using your selected product. Cops and DMV-people on the other hand are among the only people who deal with every demography. They pull over big Mercedes Benzes and they pull over cars that shouldn’t be on the road, people who are insane, people who are not insane, people who are entitled, and people who are not entitled!

The DMV is very close to that, because everybody in our world gets a driver’s license. The first thing you are allowed to do before you are allowed to do pretty much anything else is hurdle down the road in a gas-fired death machine. This tidal wave of Everybody comes at you and we walk up to that counter like ”Hey, I’m a normal person and I’m just having a day!” and the person behind the counter is ”Name. ID. Card”, because they have already dealt with such a wide scrum of people today. There are so many people who are difficult to deal with for a variety of reasons.

Merlin’s hell job would be the person in the TSA line who has to ask you to pull the water out of your bag. The airport is one of the things we all share where we are in the mass of humanity and the TSA is the choke point where the faster people can not get through faster and the competent people can not get through more competently, and yet it is a select group of people who have a reason to fly on a plane.

John has met so many people in the world who have never been 15 miles from the village they were born in, let alone having a first-hand impression about a certain terminal at LAX and how it has changed over the years. The Portland airport has changed their carpet within the last year and John heard about it more than what people had heard about the moon landing when it happened.

John recently got Delta silver medallion status (RL187)

John just recently took a couple of airplanes (”Did they know?” - ”I took them, I’ve got them now and I’m not giving them back” - ”Throw me the head, I throw you the whip. No time to argue!”) and he received Silver Medallion status. He got a virtual certificate that came on his phone. Some of his more well-travelled friends consistently have a gold status, amongst them his friend Jason Finn from the famous band ”Presidents of the United States of America” who routinely flew to Europe and Asia and Australia and who for many years had the nickname Goldmember because he was obsessed with his milage plans.

They would fly to Belgium over the weekend to play a big show and fly home again, which was bananas, but they were paid very handsomely. When they would fly to Australia, Jason would be in first class and the rest of his band and crew would be in coach. It is not that they couldn’t have all been goldmembers, but the other guys just didn’t bother to do the paperwork and obsess over that little bit of saving up your credits. His bandmates were rightfully furious, but Jason would just tell them to manage their miles. Jason appointed himself to be the travel coordinator for his band and he made sure they always flew on the airlines that he was interested in collecting miles on. He had a whole project and he berated his bandmates that they should do this and that, but they just felt it was beneath their dignity.

John also has one famous friend called John Hodgman who just achieved diamond status. He was platinum for a long time and he made a specious cross-country trip at the very end of the year for no other reason than to achieve diamond status. John wrote an email to a few people ”I just got silver status, look at me!” and got back all these condescending emails saying ”Congratulations! I hope you know that silver status accords you nothing!” It was like the Dukes and the Earls congratulating somebody who got an MBE, the lowest grade, like telling the Rothschilds that you just bought some stock. John got all this shade thrown at him about his silver status, like they just give that to you to get you on the hook.

If Merlin can afford it or when somebody else is paying for his flight, he will get the Virgin Main Cabin Select, which is great! It is very close to business class with free TV, food and alcohol and you get a nice big chair to sit in. Typically you are seated next to someone who also understands not to talk to you. You do a very quick polite greeting at the beginning and maybe you say something after the wheels hit the runway. You don’t get somebody with a large pizza and 200 papers to grade. John once brought a pizza on a plane and was so proud of it. It was one of the few moments when he turned into a 4-year old monkey: ”I have pizza! Hahaha!”

The point of the story is that on 5 of the 6 planes John has taken since he got silver status he got upgraded to First Class. John only flies Delta and he wouldn’t fly United if the world had come to an end and they were the only flight away from an erupting volcano. He would rather die here in the lava flow! But all airlines are garbage. What got John interested in this stuff was that a couple of years ago he did 50 flights in a year only based on how cheap they were online. Then he flew to Africa (see USO tour) with Jonathan Coulton who got upgraded across the ocean and sat up there, pouring glasses of free wine on the carpet while John was back in coach, which was like Tatooine.

As they got to Paris, Jonathan got upgraded on an Air France flight to Niamey, Niger. It was part of the Star Alliance and see you later, dork! He was wearing a Pagliacci hat, hitting people over the head with a loaf of French Bread and John was back in coach on an Air France flight. (Merlin really looses it of laughter!) (”It doesn’t like you! I don’t like you either! Sir, I just want to get out of France! You just watch yourself!”, like the guy that tells him where to get the guy that makes eyeballs in Bladerunner).

When John got back to America, he ran into Jason Finn, his close friend, advisor and consiglieri and said ”What the hell? Jonathan Coulton smugly flew all across the world with his fucking I Went To Yale card in his wallet, and he feels like it is all what he deserves!” and Jason said that John’s first mistake is that he flies on whatever airline. You need to pick an airline and stick with it. He sent John an email with links to websites where people talk about their milage plans and the consensus is that Delta has the best one even though it is not as good as it used to be.

They changed the carpet in the Portland airport, but it is still like being dropped in the nicest oubliette. This one is much less moist than that other one, there is only human shit in two corners and I only have to wipe off my glasses every 20 minutes. Hodgman and Coulton are also on Delta and Hodgman likes to take John with him into the Delta Sky Lounge in various airports, which is not a place John would go on his own under any circumstances. If his immigration status would force him to live in JFK for a year, he would rather sleep in front of a Sbarro’s than ever go into a Delta Sky Lounge, it is the most hateful place because you are surrounded by that creepy class of people who are swaddled in privilege and are so happy to eat fucking cookies out of these little cupcake things, eating a free bagel and a banana and refill their fucking coffee. It is so gross!

Hodgman knows that those people are the worst. He takes John in there and they sit in the comfortable chairs and look around, like ”Look at that asshole! Oh, look at that asshole coming in there!”, but he loves to be in there and he loves to bring John in there. Now John has silver status and got upgraded 5 out of 6 times, which is unheard of, and he rolls over on his belly and says ”Delta stroke my tummy”. He completely surrendered all his dignity, sitting in the departure lounge, looking at the screen, his name is on the list, then he goes to the gate, and all of a sudden he was sitting in front and people are nice to him.

The problem was that on the last flight the woman next to him discovered that John’s people were from Wales. He doesn’t know how, he must have let is slip. She was speaking with an accent and he can’t resist in those situations! He just wants to guess where they are from and he wants to be right, because when you are right, the person is ”Huh! How did you know I was from Sumatra? Most other people don’t even know that that exists!”, and then you are ”Hahaha, I’m the most interesting man in the world!”

John guessed she was from Bristol, but she was from Cardiff and for a brief second he sustained the possibility that this is going to be an interesting conversation, but pretty soon she was talking to John about her graduate thesis that she did 35 years ago on the universality of religions, which normally would be an interesting topic to John, but in this particular circumstance it was not enjoyable and John ended up being the rude person that he never is and said ”I have to go to the bathroom”, while he didn’t, he made himself go, came back and immediately started doing the crossword in the in-flight magazine.

He could feel a little bit of pregnancy between them for a moment where she was wondering if they were not going to resume their conversation about her graduate thesis, but John was like ”4-letter word for Tatooine” Merlin does not want to give any signal that he wants to have any conversation that has no clear end to it. He is already on edge when he is traveling. Some people really want to talk on a plane, maybe because they are nervous, and there are lots of people who just want to talk all the time.

Emotional, intellectual and physical intelligence (RL187)

There is emotional intelligence and there is intellectual intelligence. Only recently have people even gotten comfortable talking about emotional intelligence. Before there was just intelligence and it was presumed that emotions were the opposite of intelligence. Emotional reactions were greeted with ”Wow! Why are you having an emotional reaction? You should be reasonable and rational here!” There are tons of people who still believe that emotion is unpredictable, unreliable and the opposite of being smart.

Nowadays a lot of us are able to talk about an emotional intelligence that is different and compatible with intellectual intelligence. They have the ability to transact and converse in the world of emotion without feeling like it is strange or invalid. Mike Squires once said ”Emotions are real!” and they stared at each other in that moment and it was a lightning bolt to John. He said it a couple more times until John started crying and realized that emotions are real.

We can also see physical intelligence in people, which is not just a gift in terms of ”I can jump high, I can run fast, I can dance well”, but also a way of expressing oneself. For some people it is their primary language and they are hampered when they are unable to express themselves physically. It was a thing John was contemptuous of, because they were just a jock, somebody who just wants to dance! When are they going to sit down so we can get real? John did not understand that the physical expression was as real as it would get for them. Part of his prejudice is that the physical, temporal, material world seems lesser than the psycho-spiritual world, but the material world is all we have got and our bodies are all we have.

John is trying to study and learn it now as part of having empathy for even more people and realizing that some of the behaviors that annoy John are actually someone else’s language and he should stop being annoyed and start listening to them. You look at them and ”Stop spasming! Stop being so good at dancing!”, but it is how they are trying to communicate. It is still experimental for John, but it seems right and sometimes you get seated next to somebody like that on an airplane. Spoken language is already a second language to them, because what they really want to be doing is dancing or throwing a football. Physicality is the primary language of a dancer and anybody who is hyper in-shape.

When we think about the very best surgeons, we think of them as knowledge workers. We admire them for being highly educated, but what sets brilliant surgeons really apart is their physicality and their ability to do micro-stuff with their hands. It is their natural gift of their body combined with their education that makes them so gifted and they might actually be people who express themselves in physicality. Also super-good draftsmen have physical talent that they have honed into a skill by practice and education, just as leaping high or putting on a gold crown.

Merlin talks about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's (pronounced ”Chick Send me high e”, already mentioned in RL26) idea of flow with a digram of challenge on the Y-axis and skill on the X-axis. If you are highly challenged in an area where you are highly skilled, it produces a flow state. For John that might be diagnosing other people’s problems.

In the world that John lives in there are 2000 yoga instructors for every 3000 people. Whenever somebody is going through a life change, they become a yoga instructor. One time John was laying in bed in a Vancouver hotel room and the TV was on the Yoga channel, which might be exclusive to Canada. He laid back on his pillow and watched this woman doing yoga while narrating her practice as an overdub. She had a physicality that was unbelievable. John was completely drawn in and watched for half an hour, wondering what she would be doing next. It was a fantastic expression of physical communication!

Weird jobs (RL187)

As a skyscraper window washer you have to have a native ability to go up on that scaffold and not wearing adult diapers every day. Or being a piano-tuner: what a weird job that is! Being in a room where a piano is being tuned is really maddening. John can’t leave a room where a piano is being tuned. He learned about tempering a piano and he still thinks about it.

Tempering your guitar (RL187)

Eddie Van Halen said in 1984 that the B-string of a guitar needs to be just slightly flat in order for the guitar chords to sound nice. If your B-string is tuned perfectly, you are always going to feel a little bit out of tune. Many guitar chords have D - G - B either ringing open or barred as a single bar and that B just wants to be a little flat. During his whole career John tempered his B by couple of cents when he was tuning with an electric tuner. If Eddie Van Halen tells you something about guitars, you sit up a little bit and listen. If Eric Clapton had told him that, he would have said ”Sure, Bluesman!”

John wearing tight clothes, people want to see your legs (RL187)

Eddie Van Halen invented the Brown Sound, not the one that makes people poop, but there was even a clothing company called Brown Sound in the mid-2000s who copped the name from Eddie Van Halen and they used to send John free clothes. An XL in BrownSound clothes fit like an M in Carhartt clothes at a time when John was still making the transition to dressing like a sausage.

There was a time pre-Emo, where Emo already existed, but we hadn’t invented that term yet, where chubby kids, people with John’s build, were starting to wear super-tight clothes. That guy had a ”dad bod” or even a little bit more, but he was proud of his body, he was wearing tight clothes and it was an acceptable Rock’n’Roll style. His clothes did not reflect the shame he was supposed to feel. He should be dressed like a sleeping bag, he should feel this good about himself, because for all of recorded history, chubby people have worn muumuus and you are fucking it up by wearing tight clothes, and yet John had to confess that it looked a little sexy.

John did not personally dare to go out of the house wearing tight clothes until he made the transition to Western shirts that might be make him look like Jay Farrar and were also concealing that he was husky. Donald ”Duck” Donn or Bun E. Carlos were some of those influencers. Nobody would tell those guys ”You are not Rock’n’Roll” They were Rock as fuck, but also a little husky. John came around that whole sausage casing style of dressing when he very recently bought his first pair of skinny jeans. No matter how they looked up close, whenever he saw pictures of himself on stage in skinny jeans he realized that in show business people want to see the contours of your legs. This is why baseball uniforms, football uniforms, fencing uniforms and all of the clothes that were worn in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century had ruffles, frills, shoulder pads and gewgaw on. The top half doesn’t matter, but the legs were basically in tights.

Military grooming (RL187)

When John was in the Civil Air Patrol in 1980, they had books on military grooming that were clearly printed up in 1965, but there was a protocol for wearing a mustache and tasteful side burns. You could be in the Air Force and wear a mustache and tasteful sideburns, obviously not in bootcamp, but it was part of appropriate military dress. It might not be true anymore.

How to correctly wear your jeans, Hige-patterns (RL187)

People starting wearing pants or trousers instead of hose in the cowboy / Deadwood era. John loved those cowboy pants and he asked a tailor one time why you can never find those anywhere and they asked back ”You mean stove pipe?” where the leg is perfectly straight and not tapered. They have to be kind of tight and difficult to get on, because your foot is going through a pipe that is the same width at the ankle as it is at the hip, but a good cowboy never takes them off. Merlin is wearing the same pants for like a month. You get to wear them until you break them. Merlin used to sleep in them and take baths in them, but he doesn’t do that anymore.

One time John was in Austin and played an in-store at an Uppity men’s clothing boutique when these things were brand-new and they gave him two pairs of $250 jeans. The sales person said: You are not meant to wash these. To get them to fit properly you really should wade into the ocean with them on. They were in Austin, but they would do special trips to the ocean for that. He was saying that the salt water did something, but what he was really saying was that you need to tame the spirit of the jeans, like the white horse on the Turkish train in Laurence of Arabia.

Merlin adjusts the cuff every time he wears his pants so they don’t wear into a single cuff pattern. He has three different rough areas where he tries to never duplicate the same fold, because that is a rookie mistake. Then you just wear them every day, you never wash them, and eventually they will show their Hige, the little mustache of wear-lines that form around your crotch like cat whiskers, emanating from the cat nose of your penis head. The term comes from the Japanese vintage jean market and if you paid $20.000 for your 1960s Red Tab, Red Selvage jeans, a lot of what you are buying is really nice Hige. Once you have got some good Hige going, lay them on the floor, look at them and see them for what they are, which is an extension of your motion and your passage of time. They are a record of you, written in Hige. You can stand them in the corner and they will do small administrative tasks for you.

Cough button (RL187)

John would really have needed a cough button for this episode. It sounded hail and hardy to Merlin, but he might have Stockholm syndrome. John wonders if other podcasters use cough buttons. People often send John links to those as though John would take advice from people. Merlin explains that it is typical for anybody doing any kind of broadcasting to have something called a cough button. You hit that button when you have to cough. Most podcasters will try not to make a noise with their mouth on the air and Merlin mutes occasionally. A lot of people out there keep the mute button on during the entire time of their recording and just unmute long enough to say what they want to say, kind of like a walkie talkie (John Siracusa does that) To John this seems like some kind of tyranny! Maybe they are mouth breathers, but John is also a mouth breather, he is like God made him! This twisted old fruit. This is why people listen!

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